by Carole Jackson>, Bottom Line Health

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About 16 million Americans regularly practice yoga for health and healing—but four out of five of them are women.

What few people realize: Despite its reputation as a “soft” exercise that’s more suited to women, yoga can provide special health benefits for men—even helping to slow the growth of prostate cancer.

What all men need to know…*

BENEFITS FOR MEN

Hundreds of scientific studies on yoga have shown that it can improve health conditions ranging from sleep problems and sinusitis to high blood pressure and schizophrenia. Many of these benefits are particularly relevant for men. For example, yoga has been shown to…

Slow prostate cancer. In a study published in The Journal of Urology, some men with prostate cancer did 60 minutes daily of gentle yoga (stretching, breathing, meditation, guided imagery and relaxation) for one year while others did not. Those who didn’t do yoga had eight times more growth of cancer cells than those who performed yoga daily.

Reduce abdominal fat. Stress is behind many “spare tires,” because it triggers high levels of the hormone cortisol, which stimulates appetite and overeating and then plays a key role in turning extra calories into extra belly fat. For unknown reasons, visceral fat, which releases disease-causing inflammatory chemicals, is more prevalent in men than in women.

Good news: Yoga reduces cortisol, which helps control abdominal fat.

Help prevent a heart attack. Each year more than 900,000 Americans have heart attacks, and the majority of them are men.

New research: Yoga can reduce many of the heart attack risk factors in people who have heart disease, including high blood pressure, elevated total and LDL “bad” cholesterol and high triglycerides.

Improve sexual performance and satisfaction. In a study of 65 men reported in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, practicing yoga an hour a day for three months improved every dimension of sexual functioning—libido…erections…ejaculatory control…satisfaction with performance, intercourse and orgasm…and sexual confidence.

HOW TO START

Many middle-aged men make the mistake of thinking that because yoga looks easy, it is easy. While there are some easy versions that anyone can do, faster, more vigorous yoga styles require a fair degree of fitness and strength to even start. Even though yoga is generally safe for most people of all ages, if you’re middle-aged or older and have never practiced yoga, it’s best to start with a slower, less vigorous style. My advice…

Start with a yoga class, not with a book or DVD. Taking a class led by a skilled yoga teacher is invaluable because the teacher can look at you, review what you’re doing and guide you to the best injury-free experience. Expert instruction, mindfulness and not pushing too hard during practice can prevent most injuries, such as muscle spasms and ligament strains.

Helpful: If you do use a book or DVD to learn yoga, have a skilled yoga teacher look over your routine now and then to help you correct any mistakes.

Find a good class for men. Ask a male family member, friend or colleague who practices yoga for his recommendation. If you don’t know any men who practice yoga, ask a woman, or visit the Web site of the International Association of Yoga Therapists,www.iayt.org.

Don’t rush results. Men are often achievement-oriented and want fast results. That’s a mistake. Yoga is not about performance or competition—it’s about how the poses help you.

Just do it! This is the secret to success with yoga—simply doing a yoga routine, 15 to 20 minutes a day, every day.

For overall fitness, yoga is a good complement to cardio exercise and strength training. But remember, yoga also provides stress reduction, flexibility and mental focus.

WHAT YOGA ISN’T…

Misconceptions about yoga can keep some men from trying it. Yoga is not…

A religion. It is practiced by Christians, Jews, Muslims and atheists.

Just stretching. Yoga includes stretching poses (asanas), as well as many other techniques, such as breathing exercises and meditation.

A single style of exercise. There are many styles of yoga, from slow and gentle (such as Ananda or Kripalu) to fast and vigorous (such as Power Yoga or Vinyasa Flow).

*Before starting yoga, check with your doctor if you have severe osteoporosis, problems with your spine or artificial joints—you may be at greater risk for injury. Also consult your doctor if you have any chronic health conditions or recent injuries. If you develop pain, dizziness or other symptoms while doing yoga, stop the pose and tell your teacher immediately.

Source: Timothy McCall, MD, a board-certified internist, medical editor of Yoga Journaland the author of Yoga as Medicine (Bantam). His articles have appeared in dozens of publications, including The New England Journal of Medicine and The Journal of the American Medical Association. He teaches workshops on yoga as medicine that are open to health-care professionals, yoga teachers and anyone seeking help with a specific medical condition. www.DrMcCall.com

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